“People Who” or “People That” – Correct Version Explained

There are so many misconceptions and confusing parts of a sentence in the English language that sometimes we fail to notice or pay attention to. Like, is it ‘people that’ or ‘people who?’ Or are both correct? If you’re not sure and, if you’re curious, let’s find out.

Is It ‘People Who’ Or ‘People That?’

Both ‘people who’ and ‘people that’ are grammatically correct. Using ‘that’ is correct when referring to people or objects. Using ‘who,’ on the other hand, is correct specifically when referring to people only. Particular contexts may call for ‘who’ while some contexts may prefer the use of ‘that.’

people who or people that

Despite the common misconception that only ‘people who’ are grammatically correct, many grammar books, articles, and linguists point out that ‘people that’ is also possible and acceptable.

Take a look at the examples below.

  • People who give up easily lack resilience.
  • People that give up easily lack resilience.

Both sentences above are grammatically correct. ‘Who’ and ‘that’ both refer to the people with little resilience. In the same way, depending on the given context, ‘people who’ may be preferred over ‘people that’ and vice versa.

However, according to the Google Ngram Viewer, ‘people who’ is generally used more often than ‘people that.’ It is probably because ‘who’ is more specific to referring to people only and may leave less room for confusion.

people who or people that english usage

People Who

‘People who’ is grammatically correct. We use ‘people who’ when we want to refer to people or when we want to specify something about specific people. For example, ‘people who lie all the time’ is a phrase that points to a group of people that are fond of lies.

‘People who’ is generally acceptable and applicable in all contexts that call for specifying a trait or a type of group of people. An example is ‘people who care about others.’ It specifies the trait of a particular group of people that is caring towards others.

Below are examples of how to use ‘people who’ in a sentence.

  1. I trust people who always work hard.
  2. People who never give up inspire me.
  3. I don’t get along with people who are lazy.
  4. There were groups of people who visited the exhibit.
  5. I saw lots of people who donated to the organization.
  6. I like people who care about their families.
  7. I congratulated the people who received awards today.

People That

‘People that’ is grammatically correct. We use ‘people that’ when we want to refer to a particular group or class of people. However, we can also use ‘that’ to refer to objects and non-human things. Like, ‘ball sports that put the knee at risk,’ here, ‘that’ refers to ball sports that are not human.

Though ‘people that’ is grammatically correct, we use ‘that’ more often with teams or specific types of groups or classes of people. Examples are ‘organization that,’ ‘group that,’ ‘collective that,’ and many others.

Below are examples of how to use ‘people that’ in a sentence.

  1. I was grouped with the people that I hated the most.
  2. Most of the people that were present followed the attire.
  3. People that always give excuses are not my type.
  4. I gave my files to the people that manage the counter.
  5. I saw lots of people that I look up to at the conference.
  6. I applaud people that always pass tasks early.
  7. She informed me of some people that left their belongings.

Is ‘People Which’ Correct?

We almost always do not use ‘people which.’ It is because ‘which’ is usually used in questions like ‘which among’ when choosing between two options. In this sense, ‘Which among these people’ is correct, but we do not say or use ‘people which give hope,’ for example.

While ‘which’ can be used to refer to people and objects, the phrase ‘people which’ is not harmonious and there should be something in between. Instead of ‘people which,’ a better and more appropriate alternative is ‘which among these people?’ in question form.

Take a look at the examples below.

  • Incorrect: People which speak unclearly are hard to talk to.
  • Incorrect: I don’t like people which do not appreciate me.

In the examples above, using ‘which’ is not applicable and grammatically incorrect. As we use ‘which’ to identify something from a group of other things, saying ‘which’ where there is only one specified group is not applicable.

Take a look at these other examples below.

  • Correct: Which among these people is your type?
  • Correct: Which among the people are you most excited to meet?

Here, we use ‘which’ to refer to ‘people’ or a person and identify it from a group of other people that may potentially be one’s type (first sentence) or from a group of people one is excited to meet (second sentence).

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